Checking in on the Astros’ latest experiments

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The Astros coming to New York meant that they’re getting a lot more of a national spotlight this week. And two columns came out about them yesterday. One by Ken Rosenthal and one by Danny Knobler. Each looks at a different part of the Astros new directions.

Rosenthal’s focuses on the Astros’ use of duel starting pitchers for each game in the minor leagues. Each team carries eight starters, with the first one going abut 75 pitches, the next coming in and a closer finishing up if necessary.  GM Jeff Luhnow explains how it works and why they’re doing it. It makes an awful lot of sense for a team in the Astros’ competitive and developmental position. Actually makes a lot of sense at the lower levels for any team, I would think.

Knobler looks at the Astros’ use of defensive shifts. Shifts are all the rage these days, but the Astros are using far more of them and far more complicated ones than anyone. Coach Eduardo Perez is the shift guru in Houston, and he talks about how it has been implemented and adapted as the season has gone on and various Astros pitchers have weighed in on how they feel about it all.

I imagine some will make fun of the Astros for being unconventional. Or look at what will certainly be a poor record at the end of the year and say “see, it didn’t work!” But there is absolutely zero reason for the Astros to not try to innovate and learn as much as they can now, when the games are comparatively unimportant for the franchise. If they help them find one player or one strategy that traditional developmental methods would not have, and if it helps them win any more games when the team is truly competitive, it will have been worth it.

Pirates activate Starling Marte

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Pirates outfielder Starling Marte is back in the lineup after the team reinstated him from the 10-day disabled list on Saturday. Marte served the bare minimum on the DL after making a rapid recovery from the right oblique strain that sidelined him several weeks ago.

Prior to landing on the disabled list, the 29-year-old outfielder was off to a strong start. He slashed a robust .308/.366/.503 with six home runs, 10 stolen bases and an .869 OPS in 175 plate appearances with the team. This is the first time he’s dealt with an oblique issue, and the first DL stint he’s served since he suffered a bout of back tightness in 2016. While he has yet to prove he can bounce back to his pre-injury production levels, his quick recovery bodes well for a successful return to major-league play.

In a corresponding move, outfielder Jose Osuna was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis. The move came as somewhat of a surprise, given that the Pirates elected to retain top prospect outfielder Austin Meadows rather than the more established Osuna. Meadows was recalled from Triple-A in the wake of Marte’s injury and has only played seven games at the major league level so far, but he’s already made a strong impression: he went 13-for-29 with three home runs, two stolen bases and five RBI since his call-up on May 18.